Everyone at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 15 expo waited on needles and pins for the FAA’s mysterious announcement, scheduled today for 11 am, EDT. Your humble correspondent was able to crowd into the doorway of the press room and grab a few snippets.
The big takeaway is somewhat anticlimactic: The FAA announced what it calls its “UAS Pathfinder Program” – a public/private partnership between leading companies in three business sectors – CNN, Precision Hawk, and BNSF Railway. The latter companies will be permitted to operate beyond visual line of sight, while CNN will be permitted to operate in densely populated urban areas within visual line of sight.
The fact that the FAA seems to be favoring three selected businesses may seem disappointing to some; however, there is reason for hope.
Recall that the NPRM specifically left the door open to developing standards for BVLOS operations. The FAA sees this new initiative as an opportunity to gather data on the viability of these operations being conducted by sUAS operators. I translate this to mean that the FAA is seriously considering an amendment to the final rule that will allow for beyond visual line of sight and for operations in densely populated urban areas.
But the FAA is nothing if not a cautious body, as we have all learned.
UPDATE: Brendan Schulman remarked to me that the FAA is likely to take five years to gather data from this program, so he is less optimistic about seeing a BVLOS component to the pending sUAS rule. At least, he doesn’t see it happening by next year. That’s a fair point.